Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Deadman’s Castle and a family on the run

Deadman’s Castle, by Iain Lawrence, (March 2021, Margaret Ferguson Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780823446551

Ages 9-12

Twelve-year-old Igor and his family have been on the run for years. When he was five, his father saw a terrible crime; ever since, they’ve been leaving homes in the middle of the night, creating new identities never settling in one spot, as a man his dad refers to as The Lizard Man hunts them down. But when they settle in yet another town, Igor is tired of running. He wants to be a normal middle school student. He wants to go to school, have friends, go to sleepovers – and he’s more and more worried that The Lizard Man may be a construct of his father’s imagination. But what if it’s not? Deadman’s Castle is is a solid psychological mystery that will keep readers turning pages – I finished this in the course of a day rather than put it down – as they, like Igor, discover new secrets with each turn of the page. It’s intense at some points, taut at others, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

This one has an easy booktalk: “You think your parents are overprotective? Igor can’t have a computer, video games, or even a cell phone because his father is convinced a bad guy is going to track him and his family down using them! And no, he isn’t allowed to come to the library to use them, either.” (Because I know that’s what at least one of my wisecrackers would come up with.)

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Pepper Page Saves the Universe!

Pepper Page Saves the Universe (Adventures of the Supernova, Book 1), by Landry Q. Walker, (Feb. 2021, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250216922

Ages 8-12

What happens when a comics superfan discovers that she IS her favorite superhero? That’s what happens to orphaned Pepper Page, a high schooler who loves her Supernova comics more than anything: she can rattle off major storylines, lament retcons and canon versus headcanon and fancanon with the best of us fangirls, but imagine if you woke up one day to find a supreme being telling you that you’re really Wonder Woman, and all these comics have been chronicling your adventures? It’s a little much for Pepper to handle; thank goodness she’s got her cat companion and her two best friends to help out. When they aren’t under a supervillain’s influence, that is. Comics fans will love the nods to comics fan favorites like Peter David and the iconic Jack Kirby; there are tips of the hat to Golden and Silver Age comics throughout the story, and this is just a great new series to get in on right now. Parents and caregivers, read along with your tweens and share your comics knowledge! I know I will. Have Zita the Spacegirl fans? Get them reading this series immediately.

Pepper Page Saves the Universe has a starred review from The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Horror, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Life imitates art in Girls Save the World in This One

Girls Save the World in This One, by Ash Parsons, (Apr. 2020, Philomel Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9780525515326

Ages 13+

Okay, imagine you’re going to a con where the cast of your favorite zombie-ridden post-apocalyptic show is appearing. You’ve hit the exhibit hall, taken pictures with the cosplayers, and are just sitting down to a panel with the whole cast… and the zombie apocalypse happens. For reals. That’s how it goes down for teens June, Siggy, and Imani, attending ZombieCon! in their little hometown. They’re sitting in on a panel with all the stars of their favorite zombie show, Human Wasteland, when all hell breaks loose. The girls have to put their zombie apocalypse skills to the test to survive, and June has to cope with the indignity of having her ex-BFF, Blair, who’s also at the con and on the run from the undead. DRAMA.

Girls Save the World in This One is FANTASTIC. I loved every single page of this hilarious action-adventure story, with relatable teens who are sick and tired of friendship drama, dumb boyfriends, and all of these freaking zombies! June, Imani, and Siggy are quick-thinking, smart, and their friendship bond is #squadgoals. June, in fabulous teen fashion, takes time to agonize over her damaged friendship with Blair while figuring out how to escape zombies and put up with obnoxious cable TV celebrities, and Blair – the friend on the outside looking in – is proof that desperate times can bring people closer. Fans of the other zombie show on cable TV will recognize some characters, and I love the fangirl’s dream come true that evolves throughout the book. Who will survive? You MUST read this to find out. Strong female characters, the power of friendship, and a burgeoning romance amidst the zombie apocalypse make this a must have.

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

The Perils of Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen!

Daring Darleen: Queen of the Screen, by Anne Nesbet, (Apr. 2020, Candlewick Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536211757

Ages 10-14

It’s 1914, and silent serials are all the rage at movie houses. Fort Lee, New Jersey, is the filmaking hotspot, and 12-year-old Darleen is the star of Matchstick Studios’s adventure serial, Daring Darleen. The studio, run by Darleen’s father, uncles, and aunt, churn out serials where Darleen faces bad guy after bad guy while searching for her dear papa, but the dangers she faces onscreen are nothing compared to the turn her real life takes when a publicity stunt goes haywire and Darleen finds herself kidnapped – FOR REAL – alongside a young heiress. Darleen and Victorine, a “poor little rich girl”, quickly bond and work on a way to escape their captors and keep Victorine safe from her money-hungry relations.

Daring Darleen is a great piece of historical fiction, with a rich background of the early filmmaking industry and Fort Lee’s place in it (an author’s note touches on the industry and real characters who cameo in the story). Darleen is a smart, spunky young heroine and Victorine is her protege; the two have a remarkable chemistry that comes together on the page and makes them a formidable duo. Victorine blossoms as Darleen’s daring rubs off on her, and Darleen is always working to keep one step ahead of everyone else. Two strong female heroines, a good supporting cast of characters, and a well-paced, plotted story make Daring Darleen a book to have on your shelves. Will Daring Darleen have more adventures? Like the silent serials of old, we just have to wait and see!

Daring Darleen: Queen of the Screen has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. Publisher Candlewick has a sample chapter available on their website, and librarian/podcaster/reviewer extraordinaire, Betsy Bird, has an interview with author Anne Nesbet here. Want to show off a silent film to get your reading group in the mood for a Daring Darleen discussion? Check out one of Anne Nesbet’s favorites, Alice Guy Blaché’s Falling Leaves (1912), right here:

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Dog Driven is great action, survival fiction

Dog Driven, by Terry Lynn Johnson, (Dec. 2019, HMH Books), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1328551597

Ages 9-13

Fourteen-year-old McKenna Barney is a musher: a dogsled racer, and she’s gearing up for The Great Superior Mail Run; a 3-day, 354-kilometer race that takes racers from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to White River, Ontario. The race is a tribute to the pioneer mail carriers who delivered mail along the shore of Lake Superior, and each participant is carrying a bag of mail that will receive special commemorative stamps. For McKenna’s 8-year-old sister, Emma, it’s the chance to put a spotlight on Stargardt disease, a disease that causes a loss of central vision. Emma has Stargardt’s disease, but what only Emma knows is that McKenna thinks she does, too. McKenna’s vision has started blurring, and she’s experiencing the same symptoms Emma developed at the disease’s onset. McKenna, determined to stay independent after seeing the strain Emma’s condition has put on her family, enters the race to deliver her sister’s message and because she doesn’t know if she’ll get to do this again. During the three-day race, she and her dogs are put to the test in brutal weather conditions: owl attacks; bitter cold; snow squalls, and shifting ice.

Dog Driven is SUCH good reading. McKenna emerges as a strong, smart character who you root for through the book. Her burgeoning friendship with fellow musher, Guy (pronounced “Geee”, with a hard G) provides a solid subplot to the story. Their partnership, despite being competitors, is light, fun, and vital to McKenna’s survival in the race and her determination to continue. Letters that our mushers are carrying, plus older letters from Guy’s great-great-grandfather, provide context and further investment in the race outside of the main storyline. Well-thought out characters, a strong survival in the wild story, and Terry Lynn Johnson’s incredible – and readable – knowledge of dogsled racing make this a must-read. Give this to your readers who’ve tackled I Survived and are ready for more; your Hatchet readers, and anyone who enjoys Terry Lynn Johnson other dog books and her Survival Diaries series.

Check out Terry Lynn Johnson’s author page for pictures of her sled dogs (SO CUTE), fun facts, and Survivor Diaries research.

Dog Driven has starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist.

 

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade

Spy Penguins are on the scene!

At the beginning of the school year, Macmillan sent me a box of new fiction to check out; I’ve been working my way through it, but had to take some time to post about the Spy Penguins books by Sam Hay, with illustrations by Marek Jagucki. These books are hilarious and loaded with wacky adventures! I read both books in the series so far (there’s a third one coming in September 2020), and have started reading the first book to my kiddo. He’s thoroughly enjoying them. So let’s take a look at the newest dynamic duo, The Spy Penguins.

Spy Penguins, by Sam Hay/Illustrated by Marek Jagucki, (Sept. 2018, Feiwel & Friends), $13.99, ISBN: 9781250188380

Ages 7-11

The first book in the new Spy Penguins series introduces us to Agent 00Zero and Q, better known as Jackson and his best friend, Quigley. They’re two young penguins who have big dreams of joining the FBI (Frosty Bureau of Investigation). Jackson wants to be a field agent, just like his Uncle Bryn, while Quigley wants to be the gadget guy, creating all sorts of cool inventions, just like his cousin, Sunny. The problem? They’re a little young, a little dorky, and have a gift for getting into trouble. But when rare fish start disappearing from the aquarium, jeopardizing their friend’s Lily’s dad’s job and reputation, the two agents-in-training get down to business! But can the two crack the case AND avoid being the next to disappear?

Spy Penguins is just fun to read. There’s some good world-building, with penguin-related vocabulary (flipper and ice-related terms, krill-sized problems), and creative backgrounds for the side characters, like Jackson’s Type-A mom, who is a “truth magnet” that can track you down and whose temper is measured in shark levels, or Jackson’s father, a more creative type who constantly creates new rooms to add on to the family home. Jackson and Quigley make a great and lovable team, and the action and fast-paced storytelling will ensure that kids will want to spend time with these two – and their extended group of family and friends – again. Black and white illustrations add to the fun and the story, providing a visuals and a solid framework around the story.

Spy Penguins: The Spy Who Loved Ice Cream, by Sam Hay/Illustrated by Marek Jagucki, (Sept. 2019, Feiwel & Friends), $13.99, ISBN: 9781250188588

Ages 7-11

Jackson and Quigley are back, and just in time! Jackson’s Uncle Bryn, actual member of the FBI (Frosty Bureau of Investigation), has been hypnotized and is on a crime spree! The two wannabe-agents-in-training have to figure out what happened to Uncle Bryn, prove his innocence, and dodge Jackson’s mom, who still has them on punishment from the last adventure!

Picking up immediately after the events of the first Spy Penguins novel, The Spy Who Loved Ice Cream begins with Jackson and Quigley scrubbing seagull poop as part of their punishment, meted out by Jackson’s mom. But things take a turn when they stop at the ice cream parlor and meet Uncle Bryn and two other FBI agents, who are eating a weirdly glowing ice cream and don’t acknowledge the two. Sure, it’s strange, since Uncle Bryn is Jackson’s favorite uncle; when they discover that Uncle Bryn is wanted for robbery, they know something is REALLY up. Loaded with more gadgets, delicious (and mind-altering) ice cream, and new ways of trying to avoid Jackson’s mom, The Spy Who Loved Ice Cream is every bit as much fun as Spy Penguins. More characters get fleshed-out backstories, including Quigley’s tech whiz cousin, Sunny and antagonist Hoff Rockhopper. The inventions are straight-up hilarious this time around, including a hat that’s supposed to deflect seagull poop and a suit made of sardine poop that should (emphasis on “should”) render the wearer invisible. The illustrations and fast-paced, fun writing will keep readers coming back for more.

If you have readers who love Snazzy Cat Capers, introduce them to Jackson and Quigley. If these characters all existed in the same universe, I’d be thrilled. (CROSSOVER!)

Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

What’s the secret of The Hippo at the End of the Hall?

The Hippo at the End of the Hall, by Helen Cooper, (Oct. 2019, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536204483

Ages 8-12

Ben has lived alone with his mom ever since his father died when he was little. When an invitation to a mysterious, odd museum called The Gee Museum arrives addressed to him, it stirs up a vague memory of time spent with his father – and sets his mother on edge, although she won’t say why. Ben goes to the old museum and meets a group of talking animals, all waiting for him. They tell him that the museum is in danger, and he’s the only one who can save it – the proprietress is old and tired of keeping it going, and the people she’s considering selling it to – a greedy landlord who’s also trying to force Ben’s mom out of business and their home, and a rival museum’s director who plans to scavenge the most valuable pieces and junk the rest – don’t have the Gee’s best interests at heart. As Ben unravels the secrets of the Gee, and the mysterious hippo and his place among all the animals, he finds answers about his father and his family that will fill a missing piece he’s lived with for too long.

The Hippo at the End of the Hall is an steadily building tale that blends the fantastic with a story of family and of memory. Ben and his mom are likable characters that stick together, even when one’s annoyed at the other: kind of like real moms and kids, right? The animals have individual personalities that set them apart from one another and bring them right into the story, and the human characters have history that’s never completely given away, yet feel fully formed and built up – Helen Cooper leaves us to wonder and imagine the wonderful adventures that took place before we joined the group. The black-and-white illustrations throughout add a vintage feel to the atmosphere, bringing the Gee Museum to life under your fingertips. Magical museums and magical creatures, two terrible baddies, and a family putting itself back together make this a book to booktalk to your Jumanji fans, your Night at the Museum fans (schedule a showing of the movies!), and your magical realism fans.

Helen Cooper is a two-time Kate Greenway medalist. This is her first novel. You can find more about Ms. Cooper, including her bibliography, at her author website.

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Ellen Prager’s got a new Conservation Adventure: Escape Galápagos!

Escape Galápagos, by Ellen Prager, (Oct. 2019, TumbleHome Learning), $13.95, ISBN: 9781943431557

Ages 8-12

I am so excited! I loved Ellen Prager’s Tristan Hunt and the Sea Guardians series (2015), so when she emailed me and told me she had a new book coming out, and wanted to send me a copy, I fangirled (just) a lot. I loved her combination of action/adventure and conservation in the Tristan Hunt books, so I dove into Escape Galápagos with glee; Dr. Prager is a scientist and an author, so she creates exciting stories and backs everything up with science and an understanding of nature and marine life, plus a genuine love and concern for our world that becomes contagious.

Escape Galápagos introduces readers to tween Ezzy Skylar, her younger brother, Luke, and their father, Dr. Skylar. Ezzy and her family are still reeling from their mother’s recent death, but their dad is determined to keep his promise: to take his children to all the places on his wife’s “wonder list”. First up: the Galapágos Islands. The problem? Ezzy is not a fan of animals out in nature. They’re too… wild. So a vacation roaming around in the Galapágos, with all its wild beauty and animals who just wander along freely, makes her very nervous. She won’t have long to worry about that, though; she’s got bigger problems when their cruise ship is hijacked by animal poachers. Ezzy, Luke, and Aiden, another boy on the cruise with his family, have to use their wits work together to save themselves, their families, and the animals on the Isabela Island.

Escape Galápagos is an exciting story with a conscience. As with the Tristan Hunt books, Dr. Prager shines a light on the villains we don’t always get to read about: those people whose main purpose is to get rich at the expense of the planet and its resources: in this case, the animals of the Galapágos. It’s a brilliant way of bringing conservation issues to light and making readers aware and engaged. Ezzy is a likable character who has to dig deep and overcome her fears and discomforts (which include tortoise poop. A lot of tortoise poop) to help save her father. Luke, her younger brother, is an interesting character to watch; he reminds me of Tristan Hunt, and I wonder (okay, I hope) if he has a similar “gift” to Tristan and his fellow Sea Guardians. How fantastic would it be if this were to take place in the Tristan Hunt universe?

In short, Escape Galápagos is a great new adventure for your realistic fiction readers and your fantasy readers that like reality-based fantasy. If you have any of Dr. Prager’s nonfiction books, display them and talk them up! Dr. Prager includes some real vs. made-up facts at the end of the book, which could make for a fun book discussion activity/Discovery Club activity.

Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

A little mouse has a big adventure in Douglas

Douglas, by Randy Cecil, (Sept. 2019, Candlewick), $19.99, ISBN: 9780763633974

Ages 5-8

Iris Espinosa goes to the movies one day, and ends up taking a small mouse home with her when it curls up in her pocket to nap. She names the mouse Douglas, after her favorite actor, Douglas Fairbanks, and Douglas ends up having a big adventure on the way back home to the movie theatre! A companion to Randy Cecil’s Lucy (2016), Douglas is also told in four acts, and is an exciting adventure filled with cats, humans, chases, and escapes.

The black-and-white artwork gives a lovely, vintage feel to the artwork, especially when Randy Cecil places readers into a more specific time frame by recalling a screen star from Hollywood’s Golden Age (Fairbanks was active in the 1920s and 1930s). There are mini-stories throughout the main story that make this so much fun to read: Iris’ sister meeting her boyfriend’s mother, with Douglas tagging along for the ride; the vigilant six-toed cat; Everett Dunn, who desperately wants a pet of his own; Mrs. Pennington and her large hat. There’s so much to enjoy while reading Douglas, and it’s a book kids will want to come back to, because there’s something new to discover each time. As Douglas Fairbanks had his own swashbuckling adventures, so does Douglas.

Douglas has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Order of the Majestic: Defend Magic! Plus, a Giveaway!

Order of the Majestic, by Matt Myklusch, (May 2019, Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534441781

Ages 10-13

Joey Kopecky is a 13-year-old kid who’s good at taking tests. He just knows how to figure out the right answer, you know? His parents are thrilled when Joey’s invited to test for the exclusive Exemplar Academy, but Joey does not share their enthusiasm. He doesn’t feel like he’s anything special; he’s just got a knack for taking tests. When he arrives at Exemplar, the test is nothing like he’s ever experienced – he’s given magic tricks to do, and the final trick leads him to an abandoned theatre hidden pocket dimension where he meets Redondo, a magician in hiding. Magic is real. Redondo is the last of a group called the Order of the Majestic, who defend magic from The Invisible Hand, a group that seeks to control magic – and the world. Could Joey be the next great hope for a renewed Order of the Majestic?

This is the first book in a new series. There’s some intrigue and a lot of action, and some interesting takes on magic and technology in the modern day. We have two ancient societies battling one another over power – is it good versus evil? Depends on who you ask; the Invisible Hand thinks they’re doing the right thing, keeping powerful magic out of  the hands of the “norms”; the Order of the Majestic believes magic is tied to wonder and belief in the world. It’s idealism versus power, with the future of the whole world on the line and one kid from Hoboken holding the key. The Big Bad is delightfully glib, and Redondo, a Mr. Miyagi of sorts, is the curmudgeonly teacher with a horrible secret. Give this to your Potion Masters and Five Kingdoms readers, and talk it up to your fantasy fans.

Want your own copy of Order of the Majestic? Check out this Rafflecopter giveaway (U.S. addresses only, please!)